Utah on My Mind: Q & A with Block U on Michigan v. Utah

Actual content has been tough to come by around here over the last month due to a lot of work on the desk of your humble blogger. The solution? Have someone else do the work!

In the interest of providing you with actual content not derived from my own sappy memories of Ann Arbor (though I do appreciate everyone's emails and suggestions!), I thought a little information on some of our upcoming games was in order.

With that in mind, Sean, the proprietor of the simply awesome SBNation University of Utah Blog, Block U, and I got together for a Q & A session to answer some questions about the season opener. Sean's prepping some questions for me as well and they should be up soon. Many thanks to Block U for their time and their thorough answers.

Q & A with Block U:

Maize n Brew: Utah went 9-4 last year, including the Utes' seventh straight bowl win in the Poinsettia Bowl. Besides your bowl game what were the highlights of last season?

Block U: Even though Utah stumbled early last season, they rebounded well and provided fans with some very good games. In the third game of the season, Utah stunned then #11th ranked UCLA 44-6, a thrashing that eventually led to the Bruins firing Karl Dorrell. That game was without doubt the highlight of the 2007 season, as it caught many by surprise because the Utes entered the game at 0-2, had lost their starting quarterback two weeks before and were coming off a fairly surprising loss to Air Force.

Utah also recorded a solid victory on the road against Louisville and though the Cardinals were overhyped and overrated heading into the season, anytime you defeat a BCS team in their house has to be a highlight. Finally, the Utes blowing past Wyoming 50-0 later in the year will go down as one of the most enjoyable victories of 2007. Prior to the meet, Wyoming's head coach Joe Glenn had guaranteed a victory over the Utes and this irked Utah's coaching staff, setting in motion a chain of events that eventually led to Glenn flipping off Kyle Whittingham late in the 3rd quarter of that game when Whittingham decided to do an onside kick. We're expecting an all out war in Laramie this season because of the bad blood, even though both coaches have now downplayed that moment.

Maize n Brew: What is the make up of this year's Utah team? Is the team veteran and experienced or like Michigan and rebuilding a good chunk of its team through recruits.

Block U: Utah this year is a pretty even-mix of experience and youth, especially when broken down into offensive and defensive players. On offense, Utah quarterback Brian Johnson is a senior, as is last year's starting running back Darrell Mack and much of their receiving core. Because of this, many Ute fans believe 2008 will be the most talented team Kyle Whittingham has had and though it won't rival 2004's, I think the perception is that Utah will flirt with the top-25 and maybe, maybe the BCS.

Maize n Brew: What's the perception of Michigan in Utah and in the Mountain West in General? (References to Appalachian State will be met with a flogging.)

Block U: Like most college fans, I think Utah fans see Michigan as one of college football's Big Boys. You can't really argue their success on the football field, though most would probably agree the program has stumbled a bit and yes, even though it's to be avoided, it all boiled over with their loss to Appalachian State last year. Personally, I see Michigan as a football program still trying to find its identity in the 21st Century. There is no question they dominated the 1900s, however, most recently, their bitter rivals have passed them by (we know this all too well here at Utah) and though their position as one of the best programs in college football history is safe, they have taken a hit over the years and they risk losing ground if they continue to lose 3-4 games a season, something I think the program became accustomed to under Lloyd Carr, especially those final years. (FLOGGING!!!! - ed.)

Maize n Brew: Who were Utah's key losses over the off-season? Is there one guy whose shoes will be particularly hard to fill?

Block U: Utah lost very little from last year's team, especially in terms of talent that will be hard to replace. However, they did lose receivers Brian Hernandez and Derrek Richards, as well as Kyle Gunther and Jesse Boone on the offensive line. Defensive losses weren't as bad, though Gabe Long could be difficult to replace, considering he was one of the best on the defensive line. The Utes also lost linebackers Kyle Brady and Joe Jiannoni, but Jiannoni was hampered by injury all of last season and Brady went down in October, so Utah adjusted to playing without them. This is also one of Utah's weakest positions on defense traditionally and I don't expect that to change much this year.

Maize n Brew: Tell us a little about the Utah offense. Is it a spread, an I, a pro-set, or something really cool that we've never heard of? What makes it go?

Block U: Utah's offense is much more diverse than what most were introduced to in the 2004 season under Urban Meyer. A lot of this has to do with the fact Brian Johnson has not been one hundred percent healthy and if your quarterback is not fully healthy, you're not going to run the spread option to its fullest, or you run the risk of losing that quarterback entirely. Because of this, Utah often mixed things up, but the foundation has always been the spread. Sometimes, when running the spread option, Utah took Johnson out and replaced him with Corbin Louks, who most likely will be taking over for the Utes next season when Johnson graduates.

With a healthy Johnson -- that sounds perverted, I know -- Utah's offense is efficient and smooth, especially the spread part. Unfortunately, Utah fans haven't seen this since the 2005 season, because Johnson sat out all of 2006 with an injury and then was reinjured in the 2007 opener, which limited his play for most of the season. When he was healthy, prior to the Louisville game and Poinsettia Bowl, the Utes looked pretty damn good on offense. However, if he's hurt again, even if it doesn't take him out of the game, it marginalize his talents and that will ultimately undercut Utah's ability to successfully run the offense they've been trying to run since Kyle Whittingham took over for Urban Meyer in 2005. Expect, though, a healthy mix of pro-set plays, spread and -- even though most Utah fans hate this aspect -- the I-formation.

Maize n Brew: Thanks a million Sean. I'd say good luck, but I wouldn't mean it until week two.

If you need more Utah related knowledge, head over to Block U, where Sean will be previewing his Utes over the coming weeks.

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